A friend of mine who’s a pastor is going to preach, as part of a larger sermon series, on what it looks like to minister with (his emphasis, which I appreciate) and welcome those with disabilities into our churches, homes, and communities. Below is an initial list of dos and don’ts that I came up with, but I’d love to hear yours as well!
Do: Listen to what people with disabilities tell you about their experiences.
Don’t: Get defensive when what they say makes you nervous or uncomfortable.
Do: Value them as ministers themselves, as people that have something that you need to hear, learn, or experience.
Don’t: Think of them just as those to minister to or to receive your care.
Do: Work to make all of your church activities welcoming and inclusive for people with disabilities.
Don’t: Think that disability ministry is another ministry to do in addition to but separable from all your other ministries.
Do: Be friends with people with disabilities, share life with them, invest in their lives and let them invest in yours.
Don’t: Think there aren’t people with disabilities in your community or that they need you more than you need them.
Do: Be willing for things to be uncomfortable.
Don’t: Put the blame on them for your discomfort.
Do: Presume competence and understanding.
Don’t: Put people with disabilities in with younger people simply because that’s easier or you don’t know how to modify your current activities.
Do: Think of people with disabilities as equally in the image of God as you are.
Don’t: Assume that people with disabilities need to be ‘healed’ (or want to be ‘healed’) in order for them to flourish as image bearers.
Do: Be willing to change your group dynamics, practices, and patterns. Sometimes inclusion requires us to rethink what’s important.
Don’t: Think that the way things have been can stay intact and you just add something minor on top of past practice. The ways things have been is the history of exclusion, objectification, and mistreatment. These often run deep in our current practices in ways we might not notice.
Do: Intend to be more welcoming to and valuing of people with disabilities.
Don’t: Think that your intentions are the only things that matter. You can have the best intentions and still mistreat others. Good intentions aren’t a defense.
Do: Think about how the practices and social structures you’re a part of can exclude people.
Don’t: Think that there’s an individual solution to a social problem.